Great But Tough Ride"
An Interview with Anders Friden of IN FLAMES
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - September 2006
In Flames has inspired not only an abundant crop of metal bands of varying styles, but also a lot of fans who stand deer-eyed with joy at their live gigs. Along with Lamb of God and Shadows Fall, In Flames is a band spoken with reverence amongst their contingency, a widely-agreed reservation of regality so few bands enjoy today. Part of the reason is that you hear the class in a band like In Flames and their powerful blend of harmony and aggression most fans can appreciate. Such class is extended behind-the-scenes as I found out when conducting this interview with vocalist Anders Friden on a boiling summer day on the Sounds of the Underground Tour. I was given water and a cool respite on the tour bus by In Flames' tour manager, setting up a relaxed interview, one of the most memorable I've had this year.
RoughEdge.com: When I listen to the early albums like
"Subterranean" and "Lunar Strain" - even though you didn't sing on
"Lunar Strain" - In Flames' songs were written progressively like
"Biosphere," and then "The Jester Race" comes along, leading up to your current two albums
"Soundtrack to Your Escape" and "Come Clarity," where In Flames has concentrated on a pounding, metallic pulse to the songs. It's something hardly anyone else has been able to truly replicate, but do you feel this metamorphosis from the early years has been better for In Flames?
Anders Friden: The thing is we didn't know how to play live in the beginning. We didn't know how the songs would sound live and we tried to go back and recreate some of the older stuff but it just didn't work out. We were young and in the studio and we could put layers and layers with the guitar and it was like 'Wow, how can we reproduce that? We don't have two guitar players!' That's was something we learned along the way; we didn't start touring until "The Jester Race." I don't see that this change is a major difference, really. We've become very guitar-oriented as songwriters and we've become better at our instruments. From album to album, if you break it down, the steps aren't huge. This album and the first one twelve years ago, there should be some difference; there should be a progression. I'm very proud of our history and what we've created. They're all small photographs of who we were at that point and that's something I don't think we can and don't want to do again. I really lose faith in bands who say 'We've got to go back to our roots!' What the fuck, man? Did you lose your roots along the way or don't you believe in yourself anymore? It's just stupid. I'm never going to be in that band where we go on a tour where we say 'Oh, let's just play songs from the first album!' In a way, I understand that people want to hear it, but I don't want to be part of that, you know what I mean? It's great to hear those songs live, but I don't want to be a part of it.
RoughEdge.com: It's interesting to see where In Flames has gone songwriting-wise as you're alluding here. In bringing up the early years, there's now a whole slew of Scandinavian death and black metal bands coming up and grasping your old sound. Does it seem surreal now that you guys have moved on in a different direction that there's a big flood of bands doing that old sound that you had in the nineties?
Anders Friden: (laughs) I never really thought that my music would be such an influence upon a whole genre. When I started out, we just did something nobody did. It was something different. I mean, we were just a bunch of bands in Gothenburg that created this little scene and all of a sudden ten years later, the band's sold a shitload of records! (laughs) It's kind of weird, but I don't care so much about feeling like we've moved on and they only listen to the old stuff, because I don't think that's the case. I don't think we'd be where we are if we stayed and did "The Jester Race Part 6." It's a bit weird that a country like Sweden -- especially the scene in Gothenburg -- made such an impact. I mean, we're only forty out of six hundred thousand people who play this type of music! It's a bit strange, but doing it does make me feel better about myself, continuing to evolve and progress.
RoughEdge.com: When you hear a lot of North American bands cite In Flames and At the Gates as an influence, do you think it's almost a flavor-of-the-week statement or do you think these people genuinely feel you've made an impact?
Anders Friden: If there's ten, fifteen, thirty bands who say it, I kind of have to start believing it, but you know, I don't think about it. I hear that in every interview and yeah, it's cool, it's great. If twenty years from now I open a book and we're mentioned about having a lot of history and influence, that this band from Gothenburg was very important to the scene, then I might be proud, but today I'm still in the middle of this whole thing. I hope it's not the flavor-of-the-week, even though you have death metal, you have the Seattle grunge, you have the Hollywood sleaze thing, the Bay Area thrash, but the bands who really do create something original and take influence from something then push it forward as well, those guys will stay. In a way, if we get mentioned too many times, yeah, I get sick of it, but I think we as In Flames don't think we're all that and we continue on because we're not coming back as we discussed, to recreate "The Jester Race."
RoughEdge.com: You've been approached about your time spent on Ozzfest; I know you guys didn't have all that great of a time on Ozzfest in comparison to the Sounds of the Underground where you obviously get twenty more minutes to play. Aside from that, what differences do you note between playing the two festivals?
Anders Friden: We are here to play music, so getting twenty more minutes is a whole lot better, but I think this one is way more relaxed and the difference is between the headliners and the openers; they're not as divided. We all hang out together and we play poker with a lot of the other bands. We try to have a good time, whereas Ozzfest was more strict. Then again, it's a bigger machine and it needs to be strict. On this one, there's only one stage and everybody gets their minutes of fame, and that's better. We got fucked on so many occasions while we were the opener on the main stage. We were told 'There's going to be a ten minute break between you guys and (Rob) Zombie every day' and that wasn't the case. Sometimes he played ten minutes into our set, which is not his fault, but it fucked our position. Plus you have a lot of people there to see Maiden and Black Sabbath, and I'm not saying those guys are bad because I grew up listening to them! (laughs) But it's not our crowd; we can try to reach out to them, but when they just sit down, it's not really inspiring and it's not rock'n'roll when you play in front of sitting-down crowd. Then again, it makes you keep your feet on the ground; you don't think you're better than anyone, it's a struggle and it's a learning tool as well. It's not just bad things that happened, though; we reached out and it helped this album we released. We saw an immediate reaction and we sold more than we've ever done before. If I get asked again, I would love to do it in that position.
RoughEdge.com: I saw you guys earlier this year in DC on your headlining tour with Devildriver and Trivium, and I think it was one of the most polished and confident sets I've seen this year. You guys have spent a monstrous time on the road here and overseas. Does it ever wear you out? (laughs)
Anders Friden: Sure, sure, of course! But then when I think about it, what I'm doing is my passion and my hopes turning into my life, my job, you know? I'm very fortunate to be able to do this. We miss our families, our kids, stuff like that, but do I want to be home and be a carpenter? No way, man. This is the greatest thing in the world and to get that kick you get from the stage when you have a great show like that show at the 9:30 Club (in Washington, DC), it's just insane! It's the greatest feeling in the world. Almost as good as sex! (laughs)
Anders Friden: But yeah, it's awesome and it makes up for all the boring hours; there are times where we're like 'Fuck, man,' and I hate when people say stuff like 'You guys sold out!' I say 'Do my thing, man, right here! Do this every fucking day!' I'm home maybe three or four months a year; I don't have a life outside of this. It's no picnic or glamour. True, we have an air-conditioned bus and that's cool.
RoughEdge.com: "The Quiet Place" has become something of a modern metal anthem and now "Take This Life" has started to come into the same light as far as being a metal anthem for this generation. There's obviously a gambit that comes into play when a band finds the right formula to produce something memorable and catchy as you guys have done on the past couple of albums. When writing music these days, is that a factor as far as far as these albums enjoying the successes they have?
Anders Friden: We don't go into a writing an album; basically it just happens. I don't think you have ten "Take This Lifes" on "Come Clarity" or ten "Quiet Places" on the previous album. They all differ from each other but stay in the same music-playing elements. It's always been about melody and aggression and when you combine those elements, sometimes it's more about melody and sometimes it's more about aggression. But yeah, those songs are good and I thought it was really cool to release "Take This Life" as the first one -- and to open the album with -- because it is a heavy guitar-driven song with a lot of very fast parts, a lot of very straight in-your-face elements. Next we're releasing "Come Clarity" as a single, but it's way easier if you want to gather the masses.
RoughEdge.com: The Derek Hess artwork on "Come Clarity" conveys the theme of internal pain and the wrenching choruses on "Leeches" or the agonizing prospect of an inch per year on "Crawl Through Knives..." I think there's a certain identification aspect for your fans to relate to In Flames with this kind of album, making it perhaps a soundtrack to your inner prison this time around!
Anders Friden: (laughs) Great title, man, fuck! The artwork and the lyrics on Come Clarity go hand-in-hand. I think that was very important to me as I was writing the lyrics and I wanted something more direct this time around, so I explained it to Derek -- I sent him all the lyrics explaining how I wanted the graphics to look -- but then he obviously worked his way as an artist into it. There's a lot of pain ideally and stuff like that, and I think a lot of kids go through the same thing. It's easy to identify with that and it's good to see that I'm not alone. If from a fanbase point-of-view more people feel like this, then I don't mind taking you through whatever problems you might have or struggle you're going through. We tried to use a lot of symbols and symbolic things; we've seen a shitload of tattoos and stuff like that because it's easy to do and it looks nice, too. I definitely identify with a lot of what's going on with the fans. For me it's very important that artwork, lyrics and music go hand-in-hand. I can't write about demons and dragons because I've never met any. It's very important if I can reach out to the ones who are interested to read it.
RoughEdge.com: In some ways, I think "Come Clarity" punishes your previous couple of albums. There's a flogging essence to songs like "Vacuum" and "Versus Terminus" and I can just feel that essence on these songs. I know you say the writing is just a natural thing, but does it feel -- at least on a subconscious level -- that you've brutalized the more melodic elements?
Anders Friden: Sure, sure! What I mean is that we're open-minded when we're going through an album. We don't have intentions of 'Let's ride this direction.' Whatever comes comes and whatever doesn't fit obviously we throw those riffs away, but then again it may be a point where I want to make something that's a little more heavy and guitar-driven, so then move the keyboards back a little bit and do something faster. So that was intentional, definitely, but I think every new album we make is always a reaction from the previous one. We may have felt that "Soundtrack" was a little bit too tame or we just wanted to do something that was a little more out there, so that was definitely intentional too.
RoughEdge.com: I may sound like I'm crossing themes here, but "Vanishing Light" to me is a homogenization of old In Flames theories with the current ones. I know you've discussed about not wanting to go back, but does it ever come into play that every once in awhile, a little hint of the past -- as opposed to rehashing an entire era -- is in order sometimes?
Anders Friden: What I said to people in the beginning when they asked me about how this album was sounding, I said I think it's a perfect mix between the old and the new. I think you can divide a career like that. We will never get rid of our history, that's what I'm saying. That was not an intention to recreate the old stuff; it's just that we can't get away from it because it's us, you know? It's there and yeah, once in awhile you might write a song that could more or less be from that period, just an updated version.
RoughEdge.com: You guys were honored in your country with a Swedish Music Export Award. With so much influential metal that's housed in Sweden, it still probably reflects the North American music scene where metal is still outsider fringe music despite an overwhelming popularity in the underground. What are your thoughts to all of this? You get an award like this, the first band of your kind to do so!
Anders Friden: We were taken by surprise! We didn't realize it. In the beginning we were on tour and we got a call that said 'You guys have to write a thank you speech, and you've got to send some people to collect your award because you won an award for Swedish Music Export!' We were like 'What the fuck?' That's only for bands like The Cardigans, The Hives and those types of bands. But it's really cool; I mean, it's an extreme honor. It's our government that gave us this prize! It wasn't a fucking musical jury; it's our government and it's cool because it's the weirdest thing that could've happened to us. It's probably the weirdest thing that's happened to us so far, but it is an extreme honor and it's good that we get attention for what we're doing outside because usually in our home country we have all these reality shows like over here probably, and the bands that sell thousands of albums, they're all in the evening press or the tabloids, they're on the local video channels that are something like MTV, and MTV as well that focuses on Swedish music but obviously they have the same shit as everyone else. The kids see those bands and they think they're all that. We were always in this genre with bands like us, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, Dark Tranquility, The Haunted, and we've been doing this abroad for a long time in North America, Europe, Japan, but we never really had any attention in Sweden, even though we were selling way more than any of those bands. Now our government's started to realize there's something going on and it's cool they're proud of heavy metal, because it's such an outcast type of music.
RoughEdge.com: It is cool because In Flames has been around since the nineties and I imagine there's been that level of frustration not being able to connect with your own country.
Anders Friden: I think we were pretty lucky. We worked really hard and we have three, four thousand people now when we play shows in Sweden. We get recognition, but there's a lot of other bands that don't get the same as us. We now play more mainstream festivals as a headliner in Sweden, which is extremely cool coming from that little rehearsal space in Gothenburg in the beginning, you know?
RoughEdge.com: The journey In Flames has taken beginning with Ceremonial Oath has had its ups and downs, its positives and negatives, which you've touched upon in this interview, but in general, how would you summarize it all?
Anders Friden: It's been a long, long ride. I think we've aged (laughs) in a good and bad way and I've missed a lot of things that a normal person goes through at home in ordinary life, but then again, I've done a lot of things that a normal person -- if you know what I mean, a person outside of the music business -- never gets access to. There's so much stuff that has happened, I've met a lot of extremely cool people along the way, I've met some of my heroes from when I was younger, and I've learned a lot. I'm very proud of what we've done, you know? It could've easily ended ten years ago where nothing was really happening and we were like come on, come on, come on... It's been a great but tough ride.
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2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400.